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Bitter herbs are thought to stimulate digestive function by increasing saliva production and promoting both stomach acid and digestive enzyme production.1 As a result, they are particularly used when there is low stomach acid but not in heartburn (where too much stomach acid could initially exacerbate the situation). These herbs literally taste bitter. Some examples of bitter herbs include greater celandine, wormwood, gentian,dandelion, blessed thistle, yarrow, devil’s claw, bitter orange, bitter melon, juniper, andrographis, prickly ash, and centaury.2. Bitters are generally taken either by mixing 1–3 ml tincture into water and sipping slowly 10–30 minutes before eating, or by making tea, which is also sipped slowly before eating.
Very little published research is available on the traditional uses of bitter orange as a digestive aid and sedative. The German Commission E has approved the use of bitter orange for loss of appetite and dyspeptic ailments.3 One test tube study showed bitter orange to potently inhibit rotavirus (a cause of diarrhea in infants and young children).4 Bitter orange, in an herbal combination formula, reportedly normalized stool function and completely eased intestinal pain in 24 people with non-specific colitis and, again in an herbal combination formula, normalized stool function in another 32 people with constipation.5, 6
1. Schulz V, Hänsel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician's Guide to Herbal Medicine. 3rd ed, Berlin: Springer, 1998, 168-73.
2. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 425-6.
3. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs.Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1999.
4. Kim DH, Song MJ, Bae EA, Han MJ. Inhibitory effect of herbal medicines on rotavirus infectivity. Biol Pharm Bull 2000; 23:356-8.
5. Chakurski I, Matev M, Koichev A, et al. [Treatment of chronic colitis with an herbal combination of Taraxacum officinale, Hipericum perforatum, Melissa officinaliss, Calendula officinalis and Foeniculum vulgare.] Vutr Boles 1981;20:51-4 [in Bulgarian].
6. Matev M, Chakurski I, Stefanov G, et al. [Use of an herbal combination with laxative action on duodenal peptic ulcer and gastroduodenitis patients with a concomitant obstipation syndrome.] Vutr Boles 1981;20:48-51 [in Bulgarian].
Bitter orange has a history of use as a calming agent and to counteract insomnia. There is no clinical trial data to support its efficacy in this regard. The usual amount of tincture used is 2 to 3 ml at bedtime.1, 2
1. Colker CM, Kalman DS, Torina GC, et al. Effects of Citrus aurantium extract, caffeine, and St. John's wort on body fat, lipid levels, and mood states in overweight adults. Curr Ther Res 1999;60:145-53.
2. Calapai G, Firenzuoli F, Saitta A, et al. Antiobesity and cardiovascular toxic effects of Citrus aurantium extracts in the rat: A preliminary report. Fitoterapia 1999;70:586-92.
The dried outer peel of the fruit of bitter orange, with the white pulp layer removed, is used medicinally. The leaves are also commonly used in many folk traditions. The bitter orange tree is indigenous to eastern Africa, Arabia, and Syria, and cultivated in Spain, Italy, and North America.
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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2018.
Caution: If pregnant, suffering from any medical condition, or taking medication, consult a doctor before use. Dilute properly – may irritate skin. Not for internal use. Keep out of reach of children.